For my husband’s birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Lisbon, Portugal.
Lucky for us, our wedding anniversary, birthdays and Christmas are within weeks of one another. So, taking a trip is a good way to pack in all of the celebrating.
We thought that anywhere in the world might be dryer, a little brighter and warmer than Edinburgh in December. We were kind of right… Portugal in the winter is still a little brisk
We had some rainy days, soaked socks, but we absolutely made the most of it. We had to buy umbrellas one day, funny joke to us visiting from the UK, but a little rain did not ruin our party!
Traveling to Europe in the summer is wonderful but we have learned that winter also has perks. Fewer tourists. Affordable airfare. Available accommodation. Quieter low seasons. And my favorite part, seeing what Christmas looks like in other countries!
Our adventure started the moment we left the Lisbon airport. We were instructed by our Airbnb host to 1. board the tram to a bus stop 2. walk from the bus stop to the flat.
Directions were a bit vague and by tram we had no idea that she meant super-awesome and rickety-old-trolley. It was dark out, we could not see the street signs, so we got off where it “felt right” and got out our city map. Yep, looking like true tourists, no shame and totally embracing the paper map.
We eventually found our flat and were clueless about the view we would wake up to the next morning. The silver lining of arriving at night… we got a surprise the next morning.
We stayed in the Alfalma neighborhood. All you need is a short wander to realize how WOW it is. There are several quaint spots for a romantic sit on a bench. These viewpoints, called miravistas, give you stunning views of the water and buildings stacked on the hills. It is easy to be out on foot for long days and nights exploring the many street-side cafes, live music at hidden bars and beautiful little squares with fairy lights and blankets.
If you plan on walking and wandering around, plan on bringing a comfortable pair of shoes. Those travel books are not lying when they say there are some good inclines. If you need a break, hop on the trolley system!
We spent our days wandering different neighborhoods, a walk down to the coast, popping into café’s for a coffee and baked good. The Pois Café was our favourite spot, books covering every nook and cranny and a healthy, organic range of food and snacks.
Eat + Drink
Seafood. Custard tarts. Cheese. Wine. That is all you really need to know.
Portugal has a rich tradition of cheese-making and different regions have their own types, much like Portuguese wine. Portuguese food combines a variety of fresh seafood with the flavours from the hillside. There is a lot to discover in both food and wine.
Grilled to perfection with a secret blend of spices, this is one of the most popular dishes for visitors and has to be tried at least once. Served with a fresh salad and home-made chips, affordable dinner winner!
Cod is a staple of Portuguese cuisine and they say there is a different cod recipe for every day of the year. Cod is a very versatile fish and is usually the star of the show on Portugese Christmas dinner tables.
A mixed fish stew usually containing some shellfish and white fish with potato, tomatoes, peppers and onions as the base. White wine and lots of herbs completes the recipe. They say that the secret to a good Caldeirada, apart from the fish, is the correct layering of the various ingredients so that the flavours mix properly. I would love to make a version of this at home.
Portugal’s favorite sweet treat. Small open pastries with a sweet custard filling and a caramelised sugar topping, you can find Pastel de Nata is every coffee shop in the city. They say the pastry should be flakey and light, the filling creamy, eggy and sweet. This was our birthday cake abroad.
Do + See
Lisbon, Portugal is a cool city. Artsy. Quaint. Windy roads. Hills. White buildings. Red roofs. Colorful tiles. Cobblestone. Churches. Street art. Seafood. Produce. Vintage markets. Trollies. Cathedrals. Tuk-Tuks. Alleyways. Motorbikes. Street artists and antique vendors. Like I said, cool.
Campo de Santa. Be sure to visit Campo de Santa, a lovely flea market in the old city. Take good carrier bags to stock up on amazing vintage Portuguese kitchenware, decor, and ceramics on sale in little shops for great prices.
Trollies. The trams that trundle up and down the streets are charming. Tram 28 is said to be the best. Begin at Largo Martim Moniz to get a seat in the wood panelled carriage.
Souvenir. One thing everyone will notice about Lisbon are the beautiful ceramic tiles that cover literally every wall, café’s, flats, storefronts, park benches and city fountains. There are brand new varieties you can pick up in a tourist shops but even more charming are the antique and funky varieties you can find in flea markets and vendors. We chose a green and white one from the 1950s, easy to get back home and a totally memorable part about Lisbon.
The waterfront and Praça do Comércio square was home to the Royal Ribeira Palace before it was destroyed in 1755. Lots of locals like come out for a stroll, especially in the early evening and lots of Christmas decorations and a small Christmas market to enjoy.
Day Trip to Sintra. We decided to spend one day on a train going outside of the city. A friend recommended that we visit the nearby village of Sintra. I am so glad we took her advice. Sintra is normally buzzing with tourists, but thanks to the rain, we were two of ten people up there that day. We were soaked but it was well worth it. We visitied the grotto gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira Palace, a 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens we have ever seen.
Have you taken a special birthday trip? And what has your experience been traveling in the winter months?
Have a lovely weekend, friends!
peace + grace